The Wicked King by Holly Black
The Wicked King (2019) is the second book in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series. The first book, The Cruel Prince, and a supplementary novella, The Lost Sisters, introduced us to Jude and Taryn, mortal twin sisters who were brought to faerie after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a former general in the Court of Elfhame who is now raising the twins as his own daughters. You need to read The Cruel Prince and, if you’d like some additional background, The Lost Sisters, before reading The Wicked King. This review will have some spoilers for the story up to this point.
At the end of The Cruel Prince (here’s where spoilers for that book start!) Jude pulled a fast one on Madoc and all the fae. She arranged for Cardan, the cruel prince of the title, to be crowned king so that she could protect her little brother, Oak, from that fate. But because she had trapped Cardan into vowing obedience to her for a year and a day, Jude is actually calling the shots behind the scenes. Nobody knows this except Cardan and Jude.
Cardan, the wicked king of the title, is wicked indeed. While he revels in debauchery, Jude is running the kingdom and enjoying the power. Maybe too much. She is not looking forward to the day when Cardan’s geas is over and he gets his power back. She must figure out how to position herself to her best advantage before then.
Another threat to Jude’s power, and to the entire kingdom, comes from the queen of the undersea who appears to be covertly communicating with Cardan’s jailed brother, the prince who thought he’d be taking the throne when his father died. It’s obvious they have some plans to try to overturn Cardan’s rule. A third threat comes from an unknown traitor who is close to Jude. As she navigates all the old and new dangers in the Court of Elfhame, Jude must also try to control her feelings for Cardan. It’s a tense love-hate relationship for both of them.
The Wicked King is an exciting installment in the FOLK OF THE AIR series. I liked it better than The Cruel Prince. It’s action-packed with palpable danger on every page. I still found Jude’s angry personality to be exhausting (as I mentioned in my review of The Cruel Prince), but she has a reason to be that way. I just wish it weren’t quite so intense and relentless.
I had a hard time accepting Jude’s feelings for Cardan. The guy is a total asshole and I wanted to slap Jude for the way she felt and acted toward him sometimes. (E.g., “I look at his treacherous mouth and imagine it on me.”) As a middle-aged mother with a fully developed prefrontal cortex, I found Cardan decidedly not sexy. But this is a Young Adult story and it’s got to have a bad-boy romance, I suppose. I just hope the girls reading it will not be pining for a guy like that. If so, they’ll be just as unhappy as Jude is.
An obvious question is: why does Jude stay in faerie? She hates everything about it. She’s miserable all the time and constantly in danger. There’s really no reason for her to stay and she’d be a lot happier and healthier if she returned to the mortal world and lived with her big sister. So far this question has not been satisfactorily answered for me but I guess it’s not unreasonable to assume that Jude’s just not thinking quite right, especially when influenced by all those fae folk.
There’s a shocking twist at the end of The Wicked King (or, maybe not so shocking if you’re aware of the next book’s title, which I’m about to mention in the next sentence) and then another one right after that. I wish I had the third book in hand, but The Queen of Nothing isn’t out yet. Expect it in November. I’ve already pre-ordered the audiobook.
The audio versions of the FOLK OF THE AIR series are fabulous. Hachette Audio is producing them. The Wicked King is 10.5 hours long and quite entertaining.
Fairyland is a dangerous place, but Jude, a human kidnapped by a fairy warrior and raised there, has carved out her own place as an influential advisor to the reluctant king, who also appears to love her, to the disgust and trepidation of them both.
Wheels without wheels within wheels turn, making them both unhappy. Is there any way out of this?